Hiking Along the Great Wall of China

One teen hikes the Great Wall on her family vacation and takes a memorable zip-line flight off its edge.

When I was in the first grade, we learned about the Great Wall of China, and it captured my imagination. I couldn’t believe that a wall could stretch across an entire country, so I wanted to see it for myself. When I was in the sixth grade, my mother, father, younger brother and I took a year off for an around-the-world family vacation. My brother and I told our parents that one place we HAD to visit was China’s Great Wall. They agreed.

The morning we visited the Great Wall, a tour bus met us at our hostel in Beijing before dawn. When we arrived at our destination of Jinshanling the sun was beginning to take the chill out of the cold November morning. We were to hike about eight miles from Jinshanling to Simatai. I was surprised, however, to find myself taking off my jacket only a little while after the hike began. The Great Wall was at the top of a hill, and we warmed up pretty quickly.

The Endless Path

It was a wonderful experience to walk along the Great Wall, and to stand on something that had been built centuries ago. My mom had thought that hiking on the wall would just be like walking down a cobblestone street, but it wasn't like that at all. The whole thing stretched as far as you could see, on the ridge of a mountain, twisting and turning. And because it followed a mountain range, the Great Wall went up and down and up and down. Sometimes it was so steep that the steps we climbed were almost like climbing a ladder, and many of those steps had crumbled away.

The wall is built with a stone barrier about waist-high. The barrier runs along the top of the wall on either side. But along many parts of the Great Wall, the barrier has crumbled away and there isn’t anything at all preventing you from falling off—there is just a cliff. While approaching the small lookout towers between each section, sometimes the steps up to the tower are missing. If you want to climb up to the tower, you have to pull yourself up as best you can, or use one of the wobbly stones placed there to step on. I love to rock climb, so this was my idea of paradise—I enjoyed every minute of it.

The Great Flight 

After about five hours of strenuous hiking and climbing, we came to Simatai. We found a surprise there—a long zip line that stretched more than 100 feet above a small canyon with an icy lake at the bottom. There was no way my parents would go on the zip line, but they didn’t seem too bothered by the idea of letting their children do it. Jordan and I immediately got harnessed up together to the same trolley and pushed out into the canyon. I felt like I was flying over the lake. The giant zip line was a highlight of our visit. Once the two of us arrived at the bottom, we waited for Mom and Dad to catch up with us on foot, and then all together we waited for our bus. By the time we returned to Beijing the sun had set on our memorable day.

I would recommend this hike to anyone who has the endurance to hike constantly up and down for five hours, has good balance and can walk on uneven surfaces. And don’t forget to treat yourself to an exhilarating flight on a remote zip line as an end-of-the-hike reward! 

Destinations: Beijing, China

Themes: Historical Vacations, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Zip Lining